Alone on the Wall: Inside Alex Honnold’s First Book Talk and Signing

Alex remains smiling over 50 autographs in.

“The doors aren’t open,” the man at the front door started to tell him; the man didn’t know with whom he was speaking.

“You should let him in,” I said quietly, smiling at Alex in that weird way ones does with celebrities, as if you’re friends with them, though they have no idea who you are.

“Hey,” Alex said to the man and then me, playing off my rookie mistake by acting as if I wasn’t a complete stranger. We had in fact met briefly last summer, but not in any way that would have caused him to remember me.

It was Alex Honnold’s first visit to New Hampshire. He wasn’t here to solo Predator or run laps on Cathedral. He was just giving a quick Power Point presentation on his first book, “Alone on the Wall,” and signing a few copies before leaving Portsmouth for the rest of his two-and-a-half-week book tour.

“I did a hangboard workout in the stairwell of my hotel this morning,” he told me while he waited for the event’s producer, Margaret Talcot. “I hung it from a pipe; it was pretty ghetto.”

Taking off his puffy, Alex candidly explained to Margaret that he’d never given a book talk before, as this was the first stop on the tour, and he had no idea what he was doing. He’d made a slideshow overview of “Alone on the Wall,” but felt badly that he didn’t have much information outside of the book to present.

“Here’s a cool slideshow, and now you can read the exact same thing,” he said to Margret. He did want to know if the audience would be mostly climbers or not.

“Well they did have to pay for their seat and the book,” Margret explained, adding that there wouldn’t be any “Riff-raff,” her word for dirt-bags. Alex laughed the unintended insult off and left for a pre-signing.

Alex’s book, co-written with mountaineer and author David Roberts, chronicles his seven most important climbs, one in each chapter, beginning with his solo of Moonlight Buttress and culminating in the Fitz Roy Traverse. Alex’s first person narratives are written in italics to set them off from Robert’s additions, which include other climbers’ voices and perspectives on Alex’s feats to qualify them next to the humble first-person accounts. Roberts was afraid that Alex “No Big Deal” Honnold would understate his achievements if allowed to write the book alone.

Despite it being his first book-talk and the end of a long day of travel and interviews, Alex kept the audience engaged for over an hour. He encouraged them to ask questions throughout his presentation, and they did, making it run almost until the end of the time allotted for both the talk and Q&A session. He also skillfully balanced more technical explanations of route finding and the difficulties associated with climbs, for example shredded ropes on the Fitz Traverse, with candid stories of himself and Tommy crushing bags of Ruffles into a single Ziploc bag of “salt and fat.”

Alex said he wrote the book in part to help break away from the media’s stereotype of him only free soloing. He explained that the book progresses in complexity from his first solos as a 19-year-old to much more technical and gear-intensive mountaineering on the Fitz Traverse. Alex wants to be known for his range of experiences, not just the accomplishments that non-climbers immediately jump on as dangerous and fascinating.

So would I recommend the book? Well, to be honest, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. In my own defense: it was released a week ago. I have, however, looked at the glossy pictures in the center, and those are pretty neat. So I won’t deter you from purchasing it. In fact, I’d recommend you give the book a try. Alex says it’s a “quick read,” and it might be interesting to learn more about his climbing adventures outside of his free soloing highlighted on 60 Minutes or Patagonia battles in Reel Rock 10. Plus, who wouldn’t want to learn more about a guy who climbs rocks, gives book talks in slightly wrinkled red t-shirts and with uncombed hair, and makes funny faces between smiling for 70 pictures with eager readers?

NEXT WEEK: Alex was awesome and squeezed in a brief interview with me about the book and climbing in general before his presentation, so I’ll have the full version of that up next Monday.

MANY THANKS to my friend Alexis, the Music Hall’s Membership Coordinator, for getting me a free ticket to the event (and for being psyched on 5-hour gym sessions and bouldering in Pawtuckaway in November) and to Alex for letting me hang around and ask him questions at the end of a long, busy day. 

Originally published November 16, 2015, on 

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